STS Colloquium: George Reisch Nov 1


George Reisch of the Northwestern Department of Philosophy delivers an STS colloquium talk entitled “The Paranoid Style in American History of Science: On the Cold War Origins of Thomas Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions on Thurs, November 1, 5:00-6:30 at the Green College Coach House, with reception to follow.

It is no coincidence that Thomas Kuhn’s influential book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, was conceived, written, and published in America during the most stressful and anxiety-ridden years of the cold war. Borrowing its title from historian Richard Hofstadter’s analysis of “the paranoid style in American politics” of the same era, this talk traces Structure’s epistemological and historiographic innovations to cold-war fascinations with brainwashing and mind control. The “brainwashing idea,” holding that concepts and systems of ideas themselves have agency and power to control human thought and perception, is briefly examined in three settings from the late 1940s and 1950s: cold-war anxieties over the “brainwashing” of American GI’s in Korea (dramatized in Hollywood’s The Manchurian Candidate), consumer psychology (in Vance Packard’s The Hidden Persuaders), and the anticommunist consensus in American education holding that communist professors, because of the powerful, restrictive ideology in question, had lost their ability to think freely.